The menisci are two half-moon-shaped disks of cartilage located in the knee between the joint surfaces of the thigh and lower leg bone, where they act to balance the symmetry between the two bones. They absorb part of the weight load and ensure optimum pressure distribution. They also stabilize, buffer and distribute the forces acting on the knee. If the knee hurts when stretching and bending or is swollen and hot, a torn meniscus could be the cause. Meniscus damage is one of the most common causes of knee pain. With prompt treatment, patients avoid further joint damage and restrictions in everyday life.
The most common cause of a meniscus tear
Meniscus tears are frequently caused by twisting the knee while it is bent. In general, any sport or exercise that could involve this type of rotational falling movement poses a danger for the menisci. These include football and skiing as well as ball sports such as basketball, volleyball and handball. Being overweight or excessive strain such as frequent heavy lifting or repeated squatting are also potential triggers.
The wear of cartilage structures is also a natural side effect of aging. If a meniscus has suffered wear, even a single incorrect motion can cause meniscus damage.
Different types of meniscus damage
Physicians categorize meniscus tears according to the type of tear and location, that is, the medial or lateral meniscus. The medial meniscus is firmly attached to the medial collateral ligament of the joint capsule and is less mobile than the lateral meniscus. As a result, ruptures of the medial meniscus are significantly more common. In such injuries, the back third is affected much more frequently.
Like articular cartilage, the menisci also suffer wear over time. These changes are known as meniscopathy and are part of the development of osteoarthritis.
Recognizing the symptoms of meniscus tears
Knee pain on the inside or outside of the knee when bending and knee pain when bending are typical symptoms of meniscus damage. A traumatic meniscus tear can be felt even during the accident as shooting pain in the area of the knee joint space. Patients often hear a cracking sound. In some cases, fluid collects inside the joint, and the knee becomes swollen. This can result in a blockage of the knee joint, making fully stretching or bending the knee impossible. In addition, a feeling of instability is perceived in some cases.
Immediately after a knee injury, those affected should rest the joint to curb the swelling as much as possible. To do so, the knee should be elevated and cooled.
If a meniscus injury or meniscopathy is suspected, a physician should be consulted immediately.
Meniscus tears: how are they diagnosed?
During a physical examination, the physician checks the meniscus signs. These signs are pain reactions triggered by special hand grips and knee movements (challenge tests):
- Steinmann I sign
- Steinmann II sign
- Böhler sign
For the Steinmann I sign, the physician grasps the heel with one hand and holds the knee in place with the other. With a flexion of approximately 90 degrees, the physician passively rotates the lower leg internally and externally in the knee joint. Pain during external rotation indicates a lesion of the medial meniscus, pain during internal rotation indicates damage to the lateral meniscus.
For the Steinmann II sign, the physician palpates pain points. To examine the Böhler sign, the outstretched knee joint is moved towards and away from the midline of the body.
To confirm the suspicion, the physician may conduct magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This is suitable for assessing the type and extent of the meniscus tear.
What is the course of treatment of your meniscus tear?
Conservative treatment or surgery are possible after a meniscus tear. During conservative treatment, resting the joint is just as important as carrying out controlled movements. Aids (“crutches”) are often used. Orthoses or supports are also prescribed in order to relieve the damaged meniscus and stabilize the knee. Physiotherapy and drug-based pain therapy help to reduce inflammation and mobilize joint structures.
If the meniscus damage is more severe, surgical invention is required. During an endoscopic procedure (arthroscopy), the torn section of the meniscus is either sutured or partly removed (partial meniscectomy), with the healthy meniscus tissue being maintained. Particularly for athletes and young people, arthroscopic surgery is sometimes unavoidable, as the meniscus will tear further under high stress and cause secondary damage to the knee.
Meniscopathy – reducing pain with supports
If the knee is painful, swollen or unstable, using a support is a clear choice. But what is less well known is that supports can also effectively reduce pain caused by meniscopathy. For this purpose, the GenuTrain active support by Bauerfeind has a specially developed functional cushion that surrounds the kneecap. Integral “meniscus wings” exert pressure on the knee joint space and stimulate the joint capsule, which reduces pain around the menisci.
Help after meniscus tear surgery
After meniscus surgery, it may be necessary to temporarily stabilize the knee joint from the outside and restrict its mobility. The lightweight but stable SecuTec Genu knee orthosis is ideal for this purpose. By wearing the orthosis, patients can optimally assist with their healing process. They can quickly manage their everyday routines again on their own and benefit from an increased feeling of stability thanks to the reliable stabilization and excellent wearing comfort.